Before moving to Indonesia, my experiences with taxis usually involved being in a big city on vacation: New York or Chicago or Seoul. In Jakarta, they’re a part of my daily life as I have decided not to own a car.
The ease with which I use them became apparent when, at a church service, I randomly chatted with a professor visiting from my alma mater in Michigan. She was on a 2 week exchange program with a local university. When we mentioned the possibility of a bunch of us meeting up for dinner, she said that her hosts had her advised her not to take taxis. They had a car and driver. She admired our adventurous spirit.
Taking a taxi? Adventurous? It was like telling someone who drives, that driving a car was daring.
Why don’t we take buses or subways? Indonesia does not have the infrastructure. Yet. It’s promised for 2014. So in the meantime: taxis.
Taxis can be ordered by phone or smartphone app. The most trusted company in my area is called, Blue Bird. There are even minivans called, Big Birds (still blue, sadly). The phone operators usually speak English when you ring up to order a taxi. They recognize me now by my phone number–which you have to give slowly and succinctly. “Oh, Miss Jackie, Ya?” they’ll say, once I’ve finished with my long long Indonesian phone number.
If you can’t order a taxi–say it’s pouring rain and the lines are busy–you always need to have an umbrella and good rubber shoes (Crocs in all styles are popular here) at the ready to walk to the places were taxis congregate. Sometimes on a shady street. In my case, at the supermarket, Giant, up the road from my school.
I pass ojek (motorbike) drivers who call to me as I walk to the grocery store to find my taxi. I love taking motorbikes, but the stakes are high–so risky. People have sustained injuries.
So safely buckled into a seatbelt I’ve dug out from between the seat in a taxi, I speak the most Indonesian I know, “Lurus terus, Pak” (Continue straight, uncle / sir), “Kiri / kanan, Pak” (left / right). Then fish for my 10,000+ rupiah–which sounds like a lot–but is usually a little more than $2 USD.
The friendly drivers are usually looking into the rearview mirror asking, “Anda dari mana, Miss?” (Where are you from?) So friendly.
Soon, “Di sini, Pak.” (Here, Sir.)